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Methods for Learning Kanji and Kanji Vocabulary

text: Berdikulova Nigina Mirsoliyevna

Studying Japanese kanji can be so difficult. In particular, for learners whose native languages do not use kanji, it can be extremely hard to figure out how to memorize and study them. You may have found that no matter how hard you work to memorize kanji, you always forget them again; that you can’t always remember kanji you’ve studied when reading and writing; or that you can’t make good use of kanji vocabulary in speech. As a Japanese learner from a non-kanji background, I understand how hard it can be.

Because Japanese has just so many kanji and kanji-based vocabulary words, it is not easy to learn them one character at a time in the order they appear in the textbook. While memorizing one character at a time is also a valid approach, I feel that you can develop a richer Japanese vocabulary by learning words which incorporate the kanji you are studying.

For example, when you study the kanji 数, it’s easier to learn the words in which this kanji appears, such as tansuu, guusuu, suugaku, sansuu, and suuchi (singular, even, mathematics, arithmetic, and figure), than to memorize its kunyomi readings as “kazu” or “kazoeru” and its onyomi readings as “suu” or “su.” It is apparently effective to study kanji vocabulary in the order of the words most important to you.

Through this article, I will present three kanji vocabulary study methods which I find effective and easy to use.

Read a reading text and memorize kanji vocabulary

When I come across unfamiliar kanji vocabulary in a text I am reading, I write them in a notebook to memorize them. If I can’t guess their meaning from the context of the text, I look them up in a dictionary.

Make kanji vocabulary flashcards and go through them repeatedly in spare moments

In order not to forget the kanji vocabulary I’ve learned, I make flashcards and keep them at hand or in an easily accessible pocket of my bag, so that I can go over them when I’m on the bus or otherwise idle.

Practice the kanji vocabulary learned by writing in a notebook

To practice the kanji vocabulary I’ve learned in a given day, I write sentences using them. When I forget how to write the words, I look them up in my flashcards or notebook, and write them once again. Writing can be good practice because it involves remembering the meaning of the kanji vocabulary as well as how to write them.

It’s important to keep going over the kanji and kanji vocabulary you have learned, in order not to forget them. For example, other methods include setting your smartphone language environment to Japanese, or using Japanese for everyday Internet searches rather than your native language.

You can also download a kanji vocabulary app onto your smartphone and practice reading and writing kanji in your downtime.

See what method works best for you to memorize kanji vocabulary easily and enjoyably.

Berdikulova Nigina Mirsoliyevna

Born in Uzbekistan. Osaka University Graduate School of Language and Culture, Studies in Japanese Language and Culture Master’s Course 2nd Year. I enjoy studying kanji with Japanese reading texts.